Dakota Dreams,pleasant and not…

Begin with a zero dark thirty alarm clock buzzer, throw in an eleven hour drive across five states, with a continual flow of caffeinated beverages, and Nascar like fuel stops, and you have just participated in the trek north for the opening of waterfowl season. Let’s not forget the static of radio when the search feature fails to find anything remotely musical to listen to… At least I had some beautiful scenery to view as the miles clicked off on the odometer. Amazingly the alternating snoozes of both my canine and human co-riders had not driven me crazy, and arrival in North Dakota was effortless and safe.

It had been two years since my last Dakota adventure, but my dog Vito and I yearned to hit the potholes for some early season ducks. Somehow I coherced my brother Jack to come along to enjoy a few North Dakota sunrises and hopefully a few laughs!

Typically I prefer to arrive the day prior to the season opener. Since I would rather not eat then to hunt a spot “blind”, we arrived in early afternoon to settle into the farm. Once the gear was stowed, I broke out the ever present Alpen binoculars, maps, and notebook paper, and eased on down the closest gravel road.

I am always reminded I am in Dakota territory when I witness the unique boulder piles in field after field. Harvested from the soil by generation after generation of farmer, the piles continue to improve.

One thing I noticed right away, was the lack of water in some of our previously productive potholes. In fact, a dozen or more ‘holes were non existent! Likewise the corn and soybeans showed the strain of the summer’s drought. What should have been six foot tall corn was in some cases equal to the height of neighboring soybeans. Well, one makes due with what the Lord gives us, and I was not about to turn around!

Fortunately I knew the lay of the land and began to run a circuit of the “better” potholes. Most held a few ducks but none where what I would call a solid spot from which to start the season. Toward dusk, I wheeled the truck over a couple ridges, through a pasture and into a hidden gully, with a hidden pond at the bottom. Upon close inspection I could observe a few dozen puddle ducks mixed in with another fifteen or so divers. Throw in an obnoxious gathering of coots and we had yourselves a starting point for the next day.

The first morning of the season always brings with it a bitter sweet mood. Unpolished and unpracticed I stumble around, looking for this or that and finally gathering up all that is needed before climbing into waders for the first of many early morning hikes. None the less, the dog is rearing to go and he seems to know this is the real deal. Once we locate the two solo cottonwood trees, the decoy fleet is launched and the blinds set up. A slight breeze puts some ripple on the water’s surface and anticipation is high for the first flight!

Needless to say a few hours later, we have seen not one feathered creature. Things were not looking good for the Kansas team. Since we had not heard any gun shots, we knew that competition was not the issue. A quick walk along the eastern shore revealed the inhabitants had simply vanished from the previous eve.

I pondered the reason as to why there were no birds as we packed up. Possibly it was a PM local, or it was some sort of fluke; either way it was onward and (hopefully) upwards from here!

A quick retreat to another trusty spot, allowed us to salvage the morning. We were fortunate to bag a few mix species there and end the first dawn on a promising note. A quick bite of lunch and it was back on the trail of what I hoped would be bigger and better times this evening.

In my dictionary of hunting terms, alongside “sure thing”, sits an illustration of a small pasture slough. The kind that has two foot of bare mud bank, punctated by some reeds or knee high smart weed on the bank and some sort of aquatic lettuce in the water. As I crested the ridge, I spotted just that scene. At once, I knew where the afternoon would find me! Of course the thirty or so ducks that we splashing in the water didn’t hurt either.

Once the plastic imitations were tossed out and the blinds hidden well, all that was left was the wait. During the course of my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the season, I ran through all the scenarios of the morning and prayed they didn’t occur this afternoon. A whimper from Vito, shook the sleep from eyes, and I peered out front to see the subtle silhouettes of a pair of teal. Not wanting to ruin the moment, I EASED from my layout blind and snapped a shot at the closest duck. Like all best laid plans, this one required a second effort and fortunately that shot connected. I don’t know who was happier, me or Vito! The scene repeated itself again and again until I had finished my daily limit with Teal.

 

When presented with opportunity it seems that hard work often pays off. Staying optimistic and putting in the effort paid off handsomely with a day one limit. That made dinner as well as a couple libations taste that much sweeter! All that was left was to do it over again.

Day two dawned exactly the same as the opener. Comfortable forty eight degrees with a southwest wind. Exactly what is not preferred for a hunt at dawn. I had located what appeared to be a great loafing hole on the west side of figure eight shaped pothole. The issue was the “sweet spot” was on the west side and we would be facing the rising sun. As imagined, the ducks arrived from the east, dropping in quietly and just as easily departing as the sun illuminated us standing in the reeds straining to get off a shot. Scratch another morning off to bad luck. To make matters worse, we fared no better with duck in the afternoon; succeeding only with mosquitos and doing very well with them!

The next day found me breaking a rule I knew better to do in early season… Hunting the same hole twice! Reasoning that setting up on the east side of that “sweet spot” and loading it with decoys and robo ducks, would somehow persuade them to over look where they really wanted to be. As you can imagine, the ducks did what ducks do. They deferred back to their original spot, landing just out of gun range – west of us.

Lunchtime found me once again traveling the dusty back roads in search of hope and ducks. A kind farmer’s wife felt some pity for me when I asked about hunting the pond near their homestead. Once more, high hopes set in and things were looking brighter. The afternoon found me trying to choose between the corner where a couple dozen teal had been and the adjacent corner where the bigger ducks had been.

I felt splitting the difference and picking the west ground which also gave me the better concealment would be best. This would position me more favorable for teal but also ensure that no stray shot would enter the barnyard. Unfortunately the short grass did not allow for the use of my dog blind. My partner would just have to lay alongside me in the fescue.

No time at all found us being buzzed by little Teal rocket ships. A salvo of Fiocchi steel was launched and somehow the squadron of teal escaped unharmed. Reloading my shotgun, I attempted to laugh it off and prepare for the next assault. This time my buddy could stand for no more of my poor shooting. Upon arrival of the next batch of teal, he sprung from his lare apparently in an effort to snare a duck himself, taking me out of the equation. Once more a failed scenario.

Finally we began to get on track with the next pair of teal. One shot one bird to hand. Then Murphy arrived in full force. Mallards and gadwall began to land just seventy yards away, splashing happily as if they knew I could offer them no harm. At that point, things went from bad to worse. The steady south west wind disappeared allowing the ducks to do what they wanted and tough down wherever they wished and it was not in the proximity of my spread. Although the ducks avoided us, the same was not true of the flocks of mosquitos and biting flies! Shooting time found us attempting to fire upon swarms of insects.

That evening I drown my sorrows and tried to envision a better plan of attack. Recalling from memory a section miles east that I had previously scouted and seen good bird population; a course of action was set to engage some ducks there the next morning.

Once more we arose to a southwest breeze. Tired on continuing facing into the rising sun, we decided to set up on the northwest face of the impoundment thereby effectively catching any ducks in a crossing pattern and reducing the glare on us. At first light we encountered steady movement and managed a few ducks as well as a bonus goose from Canada before things slowed up.

Immediately upon packing up, I began my scouting ritual. Traveling a mile or so west through the rugged and rocky pasture I located a few more potholes many of them littered with loafing waterfowl. Since I had some birds remaining in my daily limit of six and had only canine companion for the remainder of the day , I set up on a likely little spot.

Similar in appearance to a cereal bowl, this little pond sat way up on top of a ridge carved out by some glacier years ago. No livestock were in the area, but their presecence was obvious as the vegetation was merely ankle tall. Once I set my decoy spread and blind, I expended an hour or more time “brushing” my hide with grasses from the area to allow it to properly blend in. Once that was done, man and beast settled in for a nap.

I was awakened by the chirping calls of passing Sandhill Cranes. Dozens were passing over head within a football field or two of our position. Even with the stout head wind they made good progress and their calls could be heard from a great distance! What a sight to behold. SHortly thereafter the geese began to travel, yet none close enough for a shot.

Lastly, the ducks began to get skyward. One by one and then later more and more took to the blue bird sky, some approaching dangerously close. Finally a single teal dropped in perfectly for a shot and once downed it gave Vito a nice retrieve. Minutes later another little teal visited us and once more Vito got to go swimming. Although I couldn’t dare be picky, I hoped for some additional flavor other than just teal. Minutes later I was rewarded with a gray (Gadwall) for the bag. One duck remained for a limit. Approximately a half hour later, an immature Mallard drake drifted into the decoys and was met with the force of Fiocchi. As I unloaded and watched Vito proudly swim back with his prize, I silently gave thanks for such a glorious day !

A mild celebration occurred that night after which plans were hatched for the next day’s hunt. Serious weather was threatening the region soon so we decided to hunt that day and call it good. I had located a suitable spot just past the afternoon’s little pond that also held a variety of ducks.

It was there we arrived that last morning still in hours of darkness. Upon exit from the truck, I began to glance around. The lack of vegetation once more meant little cover in which to hide, but alas the ground was covered with duck feathers and excrement! It looked very promising.

Since this would be our last hoorah we employed every decoy and trick in our arsenal. The few goose decoys we had were tossed out as well as both our spinning wing decoys. Much effort was again placed into concealment and with the wind finally from the east, things were beginning to look up.

As I parked the truck and walked back I felt the wind at my back and with minutes to legal shooting time, I began to get anxious. The forecast was for a steady ten mile an hour southeast wind, yet a mere twenty percent chance of rain existed. Even after legal shooting time it remained incredibly dark, more so than should be expected on a “partly cloudy” day. One must hunt the conditions and that is what we did. Apparently rust had set in over the off season, as my shooting and that of my brother had deteriorated. Several ducks flew away unscathed until we began to get into a groove. As one duck then another was downed and retrieved, I thought I felt a sprinkle or two.

Once more change had set in for the worst. Suddenly a steady wind just filter to nothing and a light mist fell upon us. I was thankful for my every present Drake waterproof shirt that kept me comfy. Maybe it was the lack of wind or possibly the cloudy skies but nary a duck seemed impressed with our spread once the rain came. Suddenly we were leppers, outcasts in the waterfowl world. To say it was crazy would be an understatement.

I was becoming concerned about our departure, since we were literally miles from a suitable roadway or house and had to cross a good portion of bare earth and low lying land. Fortunately a couple marauding Gadwalls came close enough for shots and with a half dozen ducks between us we called the hunt. Quickly we gathered our gear and tossed it into the truck in hopes of safely making it to the gravel road.

story and photos by Tom Cannon

 

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Taneycomo Trout Tricks

Much like many thousands of tourists, I take my flock and head toward the neon lights of Branson, Missouri every summer. Although we do visit some of the typical sights such as the fire show at The Landing, and of course the go cart tracks, it is a vastly different rainbow of colors I seek.

Amazingly one of the best kept secrets in Branson, isn’t where to get 1/2 price tickets to The Titanic, or even which is the best buffet. No Sir, in my opinion the best entertainment in Branson is swimming in the chilly fifty degree waters of Lake Taneycomo!

Less than a mile from the strip and just feet away from The Landing, is a riverine type lake that is teaming with both Rainbow and Brown Trout. Heck, one of the largest fish hatcheries in the United States sits right on the banks of Taneycomo. It is here that one million Trout are raised and annually released into these waters. The odds of catching Trout in Taneycomo greatly exceed the odds of getting front row seats at the Dixie Stampede!

Take your pick of methods to catch them… Whether you prefer to fly fish, cast artificial lures, or go old school and drift live bait, anglers can “pick their poison” and have a reasonable chance of landing Trout.

Nearly all of the veteran anglers and guides in the area will agree that the key to consistently catching numbers of fish at Taneycomo is to fish when there is current. This lake is actually just a river that happens to be dammed at both ends. At the head waters lies Table Rock Lake Dam which releases its deep, cold water creating the current that Trout thrive in. At the far end lays Powersite Dam, which the excess water flows over into Bull Shoals Lake. Normally at some time, every day there is some amount of water released to generate electricity at the base of Table Rock Dam.

Current stimulates the feeding pattern of the local Trout and other fish, who prey on the bugs, or baitfish that travel downstream via the current highway. Water levels upstream and electrical power needs dictate the amount of water released thus the amount of current.

What’s more, the first three miles downstream from the headwaters are a special restrictive fishery known as The Trophy Waters. Here it is only legal to fish with artificial lures such as flies and hard lures. No soft plastics or bait are allowed and there is a size restriction on fish that can be kept as well.

Quite often the Trophy Waters can offer some of the best angling oppurtunites. During low water periods dozens of fly fishermen can be seen wading the gravel bars, roll casting their tiny nymphs or dry flies for wary fish. Otherwise, once the current picks up and the water depth increases boats become present and anglers begin plying various tricks to tempt a Trout or two into the net.

 

One of my favorite methods involves casting a plastic or wooden jerkbait and retrieving it in an erratic fashion. Quite often I am able to entice a reaction strike from innocent fish. Rarely do I go more than a cast or two without a ”follow”. Fishing the crystal clear waters can be both appealing to anglers who like to visually see their quarry take the bait, or annoying when one sees how many fish turn their heads un-impressed at the offering!

One other distinct way of boating some quality fish is to cast a finesse jig and hop it back to the boat. This method can be feast or famine, yet I witnessed it work on both keeper size Trout as well as wall hangers!

I recently met one such angler, Todd Turner, from Shawnee, Kansas who has mastered the jig technique. Todd casts a hand tied marabou jig in weights of 3/32 or so switching to heavier jigs when the current picks up steam. He utilizes very light line, typically two pound fluorocarbon line which allows him to feel the jig bouncing on the bottom much better than heavy line. Additionally, lighter line translates into more strikes in these gin clear waters, since Trout have such great vision. Todd makes long casts hoping the jig up from the bottom in erratic fashion. Most strikes occur as it falls.

On any given day, the Trout may prefer one color jig over another. Thus he keeps a variety of colors such as white or brown hues handy as well as different weight jigs. “It does seem that the longer the feather body, the bigger the fish I catch,” quipped Turner. Yet that can also result in fewer fish caught, thus if an angler is merely looking for keeper size Trout, Todd advises pinching off some excess body hair. I can personally attest that these tiny offerings will pay huge dividends. Recently I was witnessed Todd boat a monster Rainbow that tipped the scales at just under eight pounds!

Like Todd Turner, I prefer a long rod for two reasons. First the longer rod allows a longer cast especially when tossing such light weight offerings. Secondly the longer rod helps when battling strong fish on micro size line like two to four pound test. The long rod creates a rubber band effect helping to wear out the Trout. Another side benefit is increased sensitivity also with a long rod. Fenwick offers some exceptional rods in their River Runner or Smallmouth series that are very well suited to these techniques. I prefer my trusted Pflueger spinning reel paired with a long rod and a four pound fluorocarbon line for jerkbaits.

Be sure to cast upstream or across current when the water is really flowing. This presents the lure in a more natural way and helps reduce snags also. The Trout are facing upstream and generally will expect their meals to come down with the flow.

Whether you choose to cast jigs, jerkbaits, or other lures like small spinners, crankbaits, or spoons be aware there are numerous trophy fish in these waters! I have boated beautiful chocolate colored Smallmouth Bass, White Bass, golden Walleye, Ozark Suckers, Largemouth Bass, as well as the common Rainbow and not so common Brown Trout.

Anglers who seek a more traditional approach may prefer to fish with live bait which is legal anywhere below Fall Creek. Top baits include night crawlers, corn, Berkley Power Bait and a handful of other items. Light line is still recommended and I prefer an octopus style hook which reduces the chances of fish swallowing the live bait and becoming mortally wounded. Generally keeping the bait along the bottom is the preferred method and drifting along with the current is a great method to keep kids or novice anglers entertained.

When fishing live bait, its a good idea to quit fishing or switch to artificial lures after a limit is caught. The odds are high that any Trout caught will suck the live bait down their gullet and even though they may swim away if released they often die later. Trout are strong fighters and with the advantage of the current they can be quite a handful on light tackle but it can also wear them out and cause delayed death. Fish that will not be kept for eating should be left in the water, and unhooked there whenever possible.

Although summer is often the preferred time to visit Branson and thus fish, it is not the only time that offers good Trout fishing. In fact, winter can present some of the optimum days for lunkers. The water temperatures will be steady in the mid forties thus the fish will still be quite active yet there are few fishermen to compete with. The lake waters remain the same only the outside air temperatures change. Pile on some additional clothing and try casting a jig along the deeper stretches of banks.

 

It seems that anyone can find something to do in Branson. Should catching aggressive, hard fighting Trout be your thing, then employ some of the techniques discussed above. Just be sure to bring along a camera, as one can never predict when that trophy Rainbow or Brown is likely to bite!

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Fishing the Keys from a Kayak

 

Some of the greatest scenery and fishing is found amongst the Florida Keys. Just a short drive south of Miami, on US 1, any angler can find numerous species of tenacious saltwater fish, as well as the most beautiful water in the United States!

We returned to one of our all time favorite spots, the middle Keys, recently after too long of a hiatus. On this most recent trip, I attempted to wrangle some of those hungry shallow water fish from a kayak! Normally, I fish from a shallow flats boat, but I decided to try my luck with a stealthy, man powered machine.

Every morning I gained valuable knowledge and experience with the little craft. I will say that I was at a definite disadvantage, in both speed and vision. I could realistically only travel four or five miles prior to exhaustion. Additionally, being only six inches above the water’ surface severely limits an angler’s eyesight and hampers spotting fish even in those crystal clear waters!

Still, I was up for the challenge, and as the sun began to rise, I could be found paddling my way out through the mangroves. My little craft had very little storage, thus I was limited as to what I could take along on each trip. My steadfast gear was my Pflueger President seven foot spinning rod and reel, spooled up with twelve pound Trilene, and a selection of Culprit & Riptide soft plastic baits. I also carried a second rod, switching between a Pflueger Summit casting reel with a seven foot heavy casting rod, or a lighter action topwater rod.

Normally, I would begin my day casting a topwater bait, such as the Culprit Topwater Shad, or a spook into just ankle deep water. In the “flats,” one never knows what will strike at any given moment. I caught sharks, barracudas, snappers and others on the surface. Sharks would come from nowhere to destroy that Culprit Topwater Shad! After losing my first two topwater lures, I got smart and tied on a wire leader and began to land those mean old toothy critters.

Once the sun got up, I would put away the casting rod and grab that trusty President spinning rod rigged up with either a Riptide Conley Grub or Realistic Shrimp lure. Since the water I was in was gin clear, I stuck with the natural or clear colors, which resembled true shrimp. Snappers would bite just about anytime the lure was near the bottom or close to the mangroves. Unfortunately, the one Bonefish I hooked up broke me off on the initial run. Still nothing gets an angler excited like a ’bone tearing off line. That never gets old, although it would have be great to land one!

Early one morning found me quite a long paddle from home. Conditions were perfect and I eased my kayak effortlessly along in knee deep water, scanning the surface for the telltale sign of tailing Bonefish or Permit. I was taken by surprise when I stumbled right into a school of feeding Tarpon just yards away. Due to my limited space, I only had my topwater rod and my spinning rod at hand. Since I knew it was unlikely that I would get a bite on the plug, I hoped for the best and made a cast with the Realistic Shrimp. Since I was dealing with very light tackle, I picked out one of the smaller silver ghosts and made my presentation.

Initial casts went ignored. I repeated my casts, again and again hoping to entice a bite. Finally, that twenty-five or thirty pounder opened his huge mouth engulfing my little soft plastic creation. As I set the hook, I knew the odds were slim to land him. Sure enough, in just seconds he broke me off ! Twelve pound line is no match for the strength and sharp edges of a Tarpons head. Alas, at least I hooked one if only for a moment!

Since I had a leader on the topwater rod, I made some futile casts to the surfacing silver giants, but to no avail. As expected they had no interest in my lures. I was just relegated to watch them gracefully ease up to the surface, grab a quick gulp of air, and slide effortlessly on down the weed-line. This was just another one of those moments I thanked God that I was able to witness. Here I was just a dozen feet from several of the most revered game fish, not a ripple on the water, nor any other distraction. To quote an old adage, “it doesn’t get any better than this!”

Daily as I paddled to and fro, I observed all kinds of life. Nearly every morning I exchanged greetings with a Manatee as I propelled myself through the canal and saltwater creek enroute to the ocean bay. I observed sting rays, dozens of species of fish, osprey and eagles, lobster, crabs, and several different birds. Rarely, did I see other boats, and never did I have another kayak within eyesight save for occasionally my wife Anne.

After being beaten by the tarpon, I set me sights on landing one of those beasts. I went through my tackle, spooling up with heavier line, and adding a heavy fluorocarbon leader. I exchanged the topwater rod for a heavy action casting rod with a wide spool Pflueger reel knowing I would probably need it should I hook one of them!

The next day I made the lengthy journey back to that particular flat where I spotted them. As I paddled for what seemed an eternity I went through all the advice I had picked up. Twice I have hooked a tarpon only to be defeated. This time I hoped the outcome would change. Heck, I had hardly slept the night before, constantly checking the tide charts, checking and re-checking my gear and rising earlier than before to ensure I got there at the break of dawn.

Finally, I arrived at the solemn ground where I hoped to find my quarry. As sweat poured off my body from the trip, I scanned the surface for any disturbance that might signal cruising fish. The world was just beginning to come alive. In the distance I spotted what might be a surfacing fish, but I couldn’t tell for certain since I was facing the sunrise. Slowly, I eased my paddle into the water, forcing my kayak forward. After all the effort, I was anxious to cast to a fish tarpon or not. I still had my spinning rod and the fake shrimp tied on for luck or any approaching bonefish.

Slowly I covered water hoping to glimpse a silver tail or head break the surface. Minutes went by and I grew weary of the wait. I began to fan cast the area hoping a nearby fish would rush out and crush my offering. Cast after cast went unanswered. I alternated between shallow and (relative) deep water. Tarpon bait or plastic shrimp… Nothing seemed to in the area. Slowly I began to feel the nightmarish touch of a breeze on my skin.

Wind is the bane of a flats angler. The breeze disrupts the water, making it difficult to see fish. Choppy water and wind also hamper the ability to maintain control of my kayak while I cast. It is nearly impossible to paddle and fish at the same time!

No, I hoped against the wind, yet it began to blow. Subtle at first, but stronger as the sun got higher. In short order, my opportunity was wrecked. The wind was blowing me across the flat too quickly and hap-hazardly to properly fish. Additionally, I couldn’t have spotted a fish if it swam right by me due to the surface chop on the water. Thus I paddled toward the lee side of the mangroves, in an effort to get out of the wind and catch SOME fish. I did find an area where I could cast, but most of the fish had abandoned it. I got a few bites from snappers, but my chance for the “great one ” were dashed.

Still, nothing can ruin a beautiful scene, such as what I was a part of. Various changes were visible in the water. Clean sandy stretches were intermixed with thick weed beds, mangroves, and channel marker posts. It was one of the greatest sights, and I tried to absorb it as I paddled my way back to the house.

I never did hook up with another Tarpon or Bonefish. The Snook I saw every day avoided my casts! Still I witnessed some fabulous sights, landed more than my share of fish, and thanked God for the chance to do so.

Should you ever get the chance to visit the Keys, I highly recommend it. Take the time to paddle or wade out into the back country. Its quite easy to get away from the mainstream activity as deep water is quite a distance off shore. If a kayak isn’t your thing, there are hundreds of guides, and tours available. The great thing is we don’t even need a passport or the ability to speak a foreign language to visit the Keys. They remain one of the best kept secrets in the U.S.

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Quivira National Wildlife Refuge Threatened

Recently we became aware of a proposal to make drastic changes to one of the premier wetlands in the United States; Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Quivira was established in 1955, and covers approximately 22,000 acres in southeast Kansas near Stafford.

This is a wetland that is of critical importance to the entire North American flyway. It is promoted as one of the eight wonders of Kansas by the Kansas tourism board and is one of the twenty-nine most important wetlands in the world!

Yet, even though it has been operated successfully for decades and has had very few issues, the government is moving forward with changes that will have immediate impact on the unique landscape of salt marshes, wetlands, and sand dunes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife through pressure from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks are proposing major changes that will allow deer and turkey hunting on the refuge among other things. Additionally the new manager will have the ability to close the largest portion of  the property (which has normally been open to waterfowl hunting only) at his will.

Keep in mind that hunters, bird watchers, conservationists and tourists drive from all over North America to view the ducks, geese, cranes, eagles, pelicans, and birds that flock to Quivira annually. Even a few changes can have an immediate long lasting effect on migrations and bird counts.

There is no written plan on exactly what changes are planned or when they will be implemented and no studies as to what effect they will have. In fact, it seems this measure was being pushed through what can possibly be called a “back door” or behind the scene process. Little notice was given to the public, with virtually no advance notice in newspaper, Internet, or magazine, as to the meetings. There seems to be very little cooperation with local landowners, even those whose property borders the refuge.

All of this smacks of the current Federal Government’s “elitist mentality” that they known what is best for all. I recommend all Kansans and for that matter all American taxpayers whether hunters, birdwatchers, naturalists, tourists or interested parties contact the listed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, as well as the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to voice their opinions on the matter. I have enclosed the email which I received when I complained. The contact information is enclosed on it.

Dear Tom
and Anne Cannon,

 

 

 

Thank you for your comment on the Draft
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
I can tell from your note that you care deeply about this national
wildlife refuge, and I want you to know that the process we are engaged in is
specifically for receiving feedback from the public before we make a final
decision.

 

 

 

Public
involvement in the planning process is essential for the development of an
effective plan. The Draft CCP/EA describes and evaluates various alternatives
for managing the Quivira National
Wildlife Refuge.  The final version of this plan will guide
management of the refuge for the next 15 years.  The Service will
gather public input as part of public comment period until May 20, 2013.
All comments received by May 20th will be considered by the
Service during completion of the Final CCP.  Please visit the
project website (http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/planning/ccp/ks/qvr/qvr.html)
to learn more or to provide additional comments.

 

 

 

I appreciate you taking the time to provide
your thoughts.

 

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Noreen
Walsh

 

 

 

 

 

Noreen Walsh

 

Regional Director

 

Mountain-Prairie Region

 

U.
S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

 

 

303 236 7920

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Install a Goose Tub for Conservation

One of the simplest ways to give back to waterfowl is to build and install a goose tub. The concept is simple… Locate a pond or waterway in an area that Canada Geese use, and request permission to install the tub.

Check out your backyard or garage for items that can be of use. Required materials include a tub or bucket, post and mounting bracket or hardware. If you have a wooden fence post or 4×4, thats great. Another possibility is PVC pipe or even metal post/pipe. I have found that PVC is cheaper to buy that wood posts, but check Craigslist.

Next you need a bucket or wash tub. I have used plastic barrels cut in half, old metal wash tubs found in ditches, and those plastic livestock feed buckets. Used is fine but be sure to wash them out good if any chemicals were stored in the bucket. Be sure that if the tub is more than six or eight inches tall, to cut out a exit so the young gooslings can easily exit the nest site when that time comes.

Then you will have to figure out how you will mount the tub onto the post. If using a wooden post, nail a piece of plywood to the top and nail or bolt the tub to that. I used a section of PVC pipe, and bought a cheap tiolet flange at the hardware store for about $3. Some bolts and washers attached the tub to the flange, and I simply slid the flange inside the PVC pipe, but I use a screw to attach the flange to the PVC pipe so that strong wind wouldn’t seperate the two.

Next, I climbed into my Drake waders and hauled my project into knee deep water, sinking it as far as I could manually. Then I waded back to the bank, grabbed my sledge hammer and pounded the creation another foot or two into the mud.

All that was left to do was place some hay or straw inside. I have found that installing the tubs in early March is best. It gives resident geese time to get comfortable with their future nesting site. This is a fun project for kids, Scouts, or 4H clubs also. There is very little cost or effort involved but the conservation benefit can be great! Geese readily accept these tubs and have a very high success rate since the tub method listed is quite “predator proof”.

 

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Fishing the Everglades in Winter

What better way to warm up this winter than to migrate south to the Florida Everglades for some sensational warm water fishing ! There is no need to deal with shoveling snow or icy roads, when the Snook, Tarpon, and Redfish await you.

Everglade City is just a mere hour and a half drive from Miami, and therein lays the winter oasis of shallow, saltwater angling, the Everglades. Here Mangroves,Margaritas, shorts and sunglasses are the norm, as well as sport fishing for a half dozen or more species of saltwater fish. In the backwaters there are few landmarks to navigate by,as well as a daily five foot tide variation that can leave you stranded on dry ground. Thus the use of a seasoned guide is recommended when fishing the ‘Glades.

Jim Conley has operated in these brackish waters for decades, honing his craft of putting clients on plentiful fish to perfection. Jim’s  www.Outdooradventuresllc.net , hosts anglers fishing for the typical shallow water prizes such as Snook, Tarpon, and Redfish yearly. Yet he admits that Sea Trout and Mackerel fishing can be grand during the winter months. Conley offers both day trips as well as a three day package but he advises that weather patterns during the colder months can be tricky. Cold fronts formed by northern wind blow water out of the fishing areas thus restricting access to prime spots. Additionally these sub-tropical fish are very susceptible to the cold, so dramatic temperature swings can shut them off or cause the fish to relocate to warmer regions.

Conley prides himself on placing his clients in the best possible situation to catch fish on light tackle. He and his guide run twenty one foot boots designed to access the extreme shallows of the ‘Glades. Whether it is fly fishing, light spinning or casting, Jim is proficient at accommodating his anglers. Typically anglers are fishing in three foot of tantic colored water using tackle similar to freshwater Bass fishing so most anglers will be accustomed to the equipment.

Jim rarely feels the need to utilize live bait instead preferring to cast soft plastic and plug type lures. His most versatile bait is a soft plastic minnow he designed, the Conley Grub which is produced by Culprit/Riptide Lures. Conley normally rigs it on a 3/8 ounce screw lock jig head in order to allow long distance casting to visibly feeding fish. Long casts and rapid retrieves are the key to consistently catching fish with the Conley Grub.

Early winter conditions will allow anglers to find plenty of Tarpon,Snook and Redfish still cruising the Mangroves. As the  water cools below seventy those fish move out of the “shallows” and toward the slightly deeper mudflats. Here they saddle up to the darker color bottom which absorbs more sunlight and warms the water temperatures. Jim still fishing for them but it is more critical to know their favorite haunts during these periods.

As mentioned earlier, once the water cools from the shorter daylight and winter cold fronts, some of the less celebrated fish can pick up the slack. Sea Trout and Mackerel as well as others rarely leave the shallows and offer brisk action as well as powerful topwater strikes that can excite any angler. Jim regularly catches spunky Trout up to six pounds which is a handful on light tackle.

Keep in mind that spring arrives in the Everglades much earlier than elsewhere in the U.S. Temperatures begin to rise in February thus signals the beginning of the migration back into the shallows. Celebrated fish like the Tarpon and Snook begin to make their way into the rivers where they will spend much of the year. February and March can be outstanding months for Conley. The days get warmer and longer heating the water until it is teeming with hungry fish. Some of the best fishing of the entire year can occur during these months quipped Conley.

As you can see there is no reason to linger at home amid the snow drifts, plummeting temperatures and frozen tundra. Utilize those frequent flyer miles and head south to the Everglades. A few bites and your mood will quickly elevate. Give Jim Conley a call and enjoy your winter for once!

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Train like you hunt

There is an old coach’s adage that refers to practicing like you want to play. Much the same can be said for dog training. Always practice or train how you want your dog to re-act in a hunting scenario. Many of us (myself included) occasionally take a short cut or allow our dogs to cheat on a task. Quite often we realize this later down the line when the dog picks up that bad behavior. Thus with hunting season on our doorstep I consulted my friend and local dog trainer, Gordy Weigel, of Bur Oak Retrievers, in Camden Point, Missouri.

Gordy is a duck hunter first and foremost, having morphed into a dog trainer somewhere in the past couple of decades. Having owned and trained dozens of retrievers for other hunters, he has a pretty good definition of what a hunting retriever should be. Dogs that come through the doors of Bur Oak Retrievers, run the gambit of brand new puppies to experienced dogs, all the way up to champion hunt test dogs. Yet no matter what stage the dog may be at, it can always use a tune up!

Obviously the first issue that Gordy concerns himself with when a new dog arrives is the health and condition of the dog itself. Its in the best interest of the owner to keep a working dog in good shape. Proper food and conditioning are critical and can prevent days or weeks of lost time at the trainer. Additionally Gordy prefers that the owner have a realistic idea of what he/she wants from the dog and what the dog is capable of in the time frame available. It goes without saying that Weigel nor most trainers can work a miracle in just a couple weeks. Keep in mind that some trainers such a Gordy take hunting season off from their training regiment so make contact and confirm the time frame your dog will be at the trainer’s,  or do things yourself.

Since the basis of the story deals with preparing for hunting season we have asked Gordy questions about experienced dogs, and we will stay away from puppies.

“First and foremost, with every dog that comes through my kennel door,” states Weigel, “I check their force fetching technique.” He takes notice of whether the dog is dropping dummies, hard mouthing them, or delivering to hand. Any issue with be dealt with quickly and promptly before moving to the next step.

“Collar conditioning,” he added, ” is another overlooked issue.” If the dog has been trained and properly conditioned to an electronic collar, our trainer will fit one to the dog and confirm what tolerance the dog has for it. Many dogs simply just require a subtle reminder and rarely need to have the collar utilized. Additionally having the “E” collar on a dog allows the trainer to correct behavior immediately and at long distance.

As we stated in the title, it is best to train like you hunt. If at all possible have your trainer shoot live birds over your dog. If that is not possible, use frozen birds from the previous season or from a bird farm to help the dog make the jump from training dummies to the real thing! Nothing comes close to exciting a dog than the scent of a real bird. Hunters doing their own training can often purchase or trap pigeons for this practice if ducks or game birds can’t be found.

Once again, simulating a real hunting scenario is a great starting point for pre-season tune ups. Place the live or dead bird in a launcher and have a hunting partner fire a shotgun if you happen to have your hands full running the dog. Remember that experienced dogs will key off the sight of the gun barrel as well visually locking in on the noise of the launched bird and then take their “line”.

Gordy and our crew like to recreate a hunting blind as much as possible. Since I hunt predominately in dry fields, I practice sending my dog, Vito, from the prone or “down” position. Many times I run my dog from his actual hunting blind to condition him to that also. We try and make everything as realistic as possible. Fire blanks or live ammo periodically to accustom dogs to actual gunfire and use a popper whenever possible during other training as well.

Likewise, Gordy, trains dogs from platforms and in various water conditions for those hunters that require those situations. I re-introduce my dog to my Four Rivers Layout Boat every summer when the water is warm and easy to deal with for both of us. Keep in mind that although a dog may have hunted from a boat or tree stand or similar platform, any new situation can be stressful for him so allow them a acclimation period preferably ahead of time. Make sure that the dog has good manner if he will be riding in a boat or vehicle such as a Gator or ATV. Nothing gets you invited back on a hunt quicker than owning a well trained retriever and the opposite is also true when your dog is a pain in the blind!

 

Gordy has also found that some thick headed dogs don’t respond to a heavy hand but will accept praise of treats to help them accomplish goals. Nothing works better or is more nutritious than a Pegetable dog snack. In fact most dog will do just about any task for one! Ample water and shade is also critical as high temps can quickly overcome a working dog.

Put a bit of thought into your next training session as hunting season gets closer. Try to simulate whatever task or conditions you expect to be in and duplicate those. Doing so gets the dog in shape both physically and mentally, at a faster rate than just running typical drills. Remember to train like you hunt and with patience and time your dog will perform like a true hunting retriever and pal.

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CALL NOTES: Tim Grounds Half Breed Dhampir

Arguably the Half Breed by Tim Grounds Calls is one of the first truly successful short reed goose calls to hit the market. This call has been around for decades and has been responsible for winning several national championships on stage and has killed literally thousands of limits of geese in the field and marsh.

Albeit the reputation that the Tim Grounds Original Half Breed has is tremendous, it’s spawn the Half Breed Dhampir, is yet to be discovered by the masses. I was curious about the name of the new version and discovered via Wikipedia, it refers to “any hybrid of one human and one vampire parent; they are half breeds…” Thus in layman’s terms a hybrid half breed; aptly named! I am told that Hunter Grounds and a friend came to this discovery (and title) after integrating Tim Grounds Triple Crown(TC) goose call guts into an original Half Breed goose call. The resulting sound produced caused imminent death to geese and thus the name and new call were born.

Prior to discussing the new  by Tim Grounds, lets retrace the history of the Original Half Breed. Tim gave me the condensed version and admitted that he shared the credit of this legendary call with Keith and Charlie Hess. Development started after Tim won the National Championship with his Guide’s Best flute call in 1986. He came into contact with Hess, who advised him that with some subtle changes to the Tim Grounds Guide’s Best he could build a short reed call that could do it all. Grounds credits Hess with giving him the concept and showing him how to get the most from the call. The result was an innovative call that helped to bring the short reed type goose call to the forefront of both competition calling and hunting.

The original Half Breed consists of an ABS molded body paired with the flute style guts seen in the Guide’s Best call. This is a simple straight forward looking design with no etching or engraving. Callers will notice that the reeds are set about an inch out from the edge of the mouthpiece. Tim advised that his Half Breed goose call “takes the air quicker than any other call” simply due to this design. Obviously some of the unique sound qualities can be attributed to the close proximity of the mouth to the reeds, giving it as Tim says,”full sound effects”.

Measuring five inches long, the Tim Grounds Half Breed is a light weight, but small and dynamic goose call. Personally I have yet to hear a louder, more piercing sound than what is produced from the Original Half Breed. If hunters are searching for a superb open country call or a goose call to reach out and invite those high migrating geese down into the decoy spread, then there is no better instrument than the Tim Grounds Half Breed call! Much like a match grade bullet, the Half Breed bucks the wind and carries it’s pitch farther and truer than any other call I have heard. In order to reach the maximum distance or when calling in strong winds, Tim recommends blowing the call straight at the geese to decrease sound deflection and obtain the farthest carrying capacity.

The Dhampir as stated above is paired with the famous Triple Crown gut system. Most contest callers utilize these illustrious guts in their own calls and recently droves of hunters have purchased various Grounds calls utilizing these guts or converted their own goose calls to run on the TC system. A quick check of the record books will reveal multiple wins by Kelley Powers and Hunter Grounds as well as several other contest callers with the Tim Grounds Triple Crown guts in various call setups.

With Kelley Powers proving feedback, Tim took a good idea (broke in guts) and through trial and error devised a gut system that would create the sounds emitted from a reed slapping on a well worn gut but without the ”breaking in” period. I am told it would take literally hundreds of hours to achieve this “worn in” groove yet Tim has conceived a method of creating it in a molded form. The finished product is such that a novice caller can move up the ladder of calling skills much faster. Likewise, the competitive caller can re-create every sound of a live goose and do so immediately with the TC guts that will slip into just about any call.

Now, getting back to the Dhampir, Tim and Hunter mentioned that by simply changing the internal components of the Half Breed to the Triple Crown they accomplished a deeper sounding call that is truly amazing in the goose pit or marsh. In fact, Hunter won the 2011 World Live Goose Calling Championship contests blowing the Dhampir call, proving the simple looking call is deadly in the field or on stage. A pretty ausbitous feat for the inaugrual year of the Grounds Half Breed Dhampir!

What I find amazing is that a customer can send Tim an Original Half Breed purchased twenty or more years ago for an upgrade to Half Breed Dhampir status with no remanufacturing. Likewise the conversion can be done at home also, but the customer must be able to tune his own call.Be advised that due to high demand, Grounds sells no more than two sets of Triple Crown guts to anyone, and refuses to wholesale them.

In this culture where “retro” is cool and the term “throwback” is the new catch phrase, nothing is cooler than the Tim Grounds Half Breed Dhampir.  Same “old” look but with a totally new “sound” that’s deadly on geese! Give it a try or just convert your current Grounds Half Breed. You’ll see why this call is Hunter and Tim’s favorite hunting call and one is sure to become another legend !

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Fire Damage is Preventable!

Most of us have grown up with the legend of Smokey the Bear and his slogan of “Only you can prevent forest fires” . Well its never been more critical in the central United States than this year, as we endure a record setting drought.

Recently our neighbor’s pasture and some of our fence line were destroyed by carelessness. Its a waste of property, a loss of income, constitutes a very real danger to homes and fires are a tremendous waste of resources such a water and fire department personnel.

This particular fire destroyed acres of agricultural land, took six fire department trucks and a dozen or more men, several hours to extinguish. Let’s consider what the cost of that was in addition to the loss of valuable water in a record setting heat wave.

Not only will livestock suffer but wildlife will too. Deer often feed  and bed in this field and quail have been seen browsing the edges in the morning dawn. Additionally, a decade or more of tree growth was lost on the fence line. Even when new trees are planted in the spring it will take years to grow to maturity.

As you can see, just a moment of carelessness caused this damage. Currently we have no end in sight for this drought but just a bit of precaution can save millions in dollars. Smokers need to ensure that their cigarette butts are completely extinguished. The best way to do this is to drop the “butt” in a bucket of water and never flick them out the window of a moving vehicle.

Just as important, is to dis-continue burning trash, which is how this fire began. Bag trash up and place it on the curb or take it into town, or dispose of trash in alternate ways. When in doubt consult your local fire department prior to lighting any fire(s)!

Remember – only you can prevent forest,range, or grass fires!

 

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Beating the Heat

Trying to avoid succumbing to the furnace like temperatures that we have enduring this summer, I try to find methods of staying cool and having some fun. Duck hunting may still be months away, and while it does help to think about the cooler days ahead we have work to do in the meantime.

Thus the latest training day for man and beast was set forth. This past season was the first for my Lab, Vito. Unfortunately it was a difficult time as we harbored few ducks or geese and he got very little experience. Likewise, my human protege never made it out to the duck marsh with me which got me thinking…

What better way to spend a hot summer day than to hitch up the trailer with the Four Rivers Layout Boats and head to the lake. This would give both girl and beast a chance to get acquainted with our favorite waterfowl vessel.

The trick was to get both calmed down as they were busting at the seams when we reached the boat ramp! One immediately notices the steadiness of these boats when climbing aboard. There is no rocking or pitching from side to side like in a canoe. Novices appreciate this fact and become comfortable in seconds. Once I climbed aboard, my daughter Kylee jumped in and seconds later Vito found his perch.

The Refuge Runner as well as the new EBADS boat, have a dog platform on the stern. Do not be concerned as there is plenty of room for even an extra large dog such as mine and having an additional eighty or ninety pounds made no difference in the stability or profile of the boat. Four Rivers layout boats are wide for maximum stability and they are packed with floatation foam making them nearly impossible to overturn on the water.

I recommend hunters utilize the summer months to accustom their new dogs with whatever boat the decide to take hunting. Face it not all dogs find boats agreeable and it may take some coaxing to get them aboard. Its best not to wait until the dawn of the hunt to test this theory!

Ensure that whatever means of propulsion you plan to use is also on the boat and that the retriever gets a chance to encounter that as well. A “mud motor” may produce a unique noise that could spook your dog if he or she is not conditioned to that. I normally use a push pole, paddle or trolling motor on my Four Rivers Boats so that is what we brought along.

Additionally be sure to get in some retrieves from the boat as well. Casting off the boat’s dog platform is rock solid but again its something the dog may need to be coaxed into trying. Whats more, climbing aboard can be something special for dog and owner, so get plenty of repetitions so it becomes a normal feat. I added some no slip rubber traction strips to help my dog climb aboard easier.

No one seems to mind getting splashed or drenched when the conditions are near one hundred so this is a perfect time to get the maiden vouyage out of the way for novices whether they be man, woman or canine. Practice good boating safety if entering deep or swift water by wearing life jackets.

Continue your drills and regular trips to the water with both canine and kids if possible. Within minutes my Lab “found” his place and became comfortable enough to layout and stay calm. I have no doubt he will be well acclimated to the vessel come November!

Although we hunt from two of the Refuge Runners, those hunters who have need for mud motors or large outboards really need to take a close look at the new EBADS boat from Four Rivers. It was designed specifically for use with a high output motor and is built to withstand the force of charging over dikes, logs, or through ice. We will showcase video footage of this boat shortly!

Getting the layout boat into the water in summer is also the perfect time to locate and fix any damaged items. Ensure the drain plug fits tight and keeps the interior dry. If lights are needed, test, replace or re-wire them. Check your state to ensure what safety items are needed and stock those on board. Most states require a fire extinguisher is the boat is equipped with a gas engine. Identification numbers may also be required so check local regs. Is the camouflage still good? If not make a note to replace the doors or covers and add more grass or vegetation if need be prior to fall.

 

Just a few hours this summer will pay dividends this fall when the season rolls in. Until then, have fun and stay cool!

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